A committee of The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity recently published a remarkable theological document in which they seem to negate many of the principles on which Christianity is grounded. The committee discussed various questions which arise regarding Catholic- Jewish relations and their answers are nothing short of revolutionary.
For example, one of the most fundamental tenets of Christianity maintains that one who does not believe in Jesus cannot attain salvation. This is the reason why over the course of history Christian have sought to persuade Jews by every means possible to convert to Christianity and thus achieve their salvation. Many Jews died rather than subvert their faith, and others were tormented for their rejection of Jesus. Yet the new church manifesto states unequivocally that “Jews can participate in salvation without explicitly accepting Christ”. Since this seems to contradict the principle mentioned above, the committee added that “it is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery” how Jews can attain salvation in this way but it is still an incontrovertible fact.
Moreover the document states that the “covenant of God with Israel will never be revoked” and that “the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel.” In this respect the document emphasizes that “a replacement or supersession theology which sets against one another two separate entities … is deprived of its foundations.” This means that the Church is rejecting the idea that Christianity replaced Judaism as the people of G-d and is instead affirming that both religions can live side by side.
Part of the reason for the church's change of attitude towards Jews is explained based on “the dark and terrible shadow of the Shoah over Europe during the Nazi period which led the Church to reflect anew on her bond with the Jewish people.” Moreover the document notes the “special theological status” of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, given Christianity's roots in Judaism.
The document then demonstrates how Jews can attain their salvation and how they can get closer to the word of G-d. It is fascinating to see that the Christian church understands better than many misguided Jews what they ought to be doing: “For Jews, this Word can be learned through the Torah and the traditions based on it. The Torah is the instruction for a successful life in right relationship with God. Whoever observes the Torah has life in its fullness as is written in Ethics of the Fathers “One who increases Torah increases life”. By observing the Torah the Jew receives a share in communion with God.”
For this reason the church has a different attitude about evangelical activity with Jews than with other nations and “in concrete terms, this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”
The controversial new manifesto has not gone unnoticed in Christian circles. Many loyal Christians reacted with shock and anger. Some even called to leave the Catholic Church, while others pondered whether “the pope is declaring that Jesus made a mistake”. One Christian website accused the pope of being a “false prophet” and even cast him as an anti-Semite since he claimed that saving souls does not apply to the Jewish nation and in this way denies them the opportunity for salvation.
The new manifesto is effectively an affirmation and extension of a previous missive regarding Judeo-Christian relations issued exactly fifty years ago and titled Nostra aetate (“In our times”). In that statement the Church announced that the Jewish people should not be held accountable for Christ's crucifixion. Anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews throughout history were also deemed to be wrong and inconsonant with Christianity. However the present statement goes much further than the original one and confers legitimacy on Judaism as it is practiced today.
In a sense this development is also a fulfillment of biblical prophecies. The prophet Tzephania writes: “For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent”. Other prophets also foresaw a time when gentiles will recognize the true G-d, as Zecharia said: On that day G-d will rule over the entire world”.